Chennai, Jan 5 : The Madras High Court on Friday directed striking workers to resume work immediately or face disciplinary action after a flash strike by thousands of employees crippled state-run bus services across the state.
But defiant striking unions refused to end the work stoppage unless their demands for better salaries and more were accepted by the government.
The unions pledged to appeal against the court order.
Chief Justice Indira Banerjee and Justice Abdul Quddhose said essential services cannot be paralysed and ordered the government to take strict action.
The workers could face suspension or dismissal if they don't resume work. The court intervened following a PIL filed by a journalist who wanted the strike to be declared illegal.
Bus services were hit hard across Tamil Nadu, including Chennai where over 70 per cent of the buses went off the roads.
In many districts, however, more than 90 per cent of the state-run and corporation-run buses stayed off the roads, leaving daily commuters and long-distance travellers stranded.
A. Soundarrajan, President of the Tamil Nadu State Transport Employees Federation, justified the strike and accused the government of taking away Rs 7,000 crore of workers money for business operations and not paying retirement benefits over the past two years.
The strike began on Friday after talks between the unions and the authorities failed to end the stalemate.
In some districts, the protest began on Thursday night.
The unions want a 2.57 per cent hike in wages but Transport Minister M.R.
Vijayabhaskar said the government could only agree to a 2.44 per cent increase.
The government ran a few buses, including private ones hired on contract, with police protection.
Strikers got into scuffles with those plying buses in some towns.
Chief Minister K. Palaniswami held meetings with ministers while opposition parties urged the government to accept the workers' demands.
In Chennai, only about 30 per cent of the state-run fleet was operational.
In other parts of the state including Madurai, Tiruchirapalli, Erode and Salem, private buses came to the rescue of commuters.
But officials admitted the situation was grim all across Tamil Nadu.